Monday, January 18, 2010

A Black Unitarian Universalist History Moment

Sometimes forgiveness is possible and necessary to move forward. Below you will read about a congregations efforts to right the wrongs of racism that rejected a black Unitarian minister and in the process all but obliterated him from the annals of UU history. I believe that it is a mark of spiritual maturity when we can acknowledge such history. When forgiveness is sought it begins a healing process that radiates out into the world.

Question: Where do you need to seek forgiveness in your life? What do you need to forgive in yourself?

Blessings! Rev. Qiyamah

Congregation Honors African American Unitarian Minister with Change in Name, Expansion of Vision
February 22, 2008

The church formerly known as the Bowie Unitarian Universalist Fellowship began in 1984. For many years this small congregation, located in Prince George's County in Maryland, met in an elementary school before purchasing its current space in an office condominium complex. Congregation members, who have been trying to grow in numbers and in depth of programming, had come to believe that the former name was not inclusive enough of people living outside of Bowie who either attended their congregation or who they wished to reach. Additionally, they were clear that they "wanted a name that honored a prominent local Unitarian Universalist."

And so in 2005, the congregation voted to change its name to honor an African American Unitarian minister, Don Speed Smith Goodloe, who had called Bowie home. Goodloe was the first African American graduate of Meadville Theological School (1906)—now Meadville Lombard Theological School.

Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed wrote in his book, "Black Pioneers in a White Denomination," that Goodloe was one of a number of black Unitarian ministers who faced "the impossibility of...ministering to a Unitarian church." Turned away by the faith he had trusted, Goodloe decided to focus on education. He hoped, with his wife, to run a school composed of "carefully selected and choice students," and the perhaps to run the school and still preach somewhere. From the time he graduated from Meadville in 1906 until 1910, Goodloe was principal of the Danville Industrial Normal School in Danville, Kentucky, and from 1910 until 1911 was vice principal of Manassas (Virginia) Industrial School. Following that, he served as the first principal (1911-1921) of the Maryland Normal and Industrial School—Maryland's first black post-secondary school, which is now Bowie State University.

He was an effective leader. While at the Maryland Normal and Industrial School, Goodloe established dormitories and educational facilities, hired teachers—increasing the faculty from four to ten—established a model elementary school and summer session, and set an admission requirement of completion of a minimum of seventh grade. He sought appropriations from the state legislature in Annapolis for preparing teachers that put the school in competition with nearby white normal schools.

So Goodloe's legacy, which included being named to "Who's Who in America" (Vol. IX), offered an opportunity for the Bowie congregation to lift up Goodloe's good works and to, in some small way, reclaim his place in the Unitarian Universalist ministry. And so the Bowie Unitarian Universalist Fellowship became the Goodloe Memorial Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

Rev. Cynthia Snavely, who has served the congregation as minister for four years, said, "We realized that we are in a majority African American community in Prince George's County, and wanted to make more connection with Bowie University. [Since we changed our name] we decided to organize an annual Goodloe celebration and now provide a scholarship in Goodloe's name to a student in the university. We are a small congregation with 67 members, but it is a $1,000 scholarship. This year will be the second year that we have made that presentation, in April, and this will coincide with the dedication of our new building." The ceremony will take place on April 27.

Snavely said the congregation has also made contact with the Bowie University alumni who bought the Don Speed Smith Goodloe house—listed on the registry of historic places—several years ago. "We have been involved with others in seeing whether we might be active in preserving the house." Snavely said that one of the congregation's members, Dick Morris, spoke at this year's Bowie Interfaith Martin Luther King Day service on some of the Goodloe history, and Snavely preaches regularly on diversity topics. In addition the congregation's members, in growing numbers, participate in ADORE (A Dialogue on Race and Ethnicity), a program which occurs at several Unitarian Universalist congregations in the greater Washington area.

The work of Rev. Don Speed Smith Goodloe remains important today. "I think education for African Americans is still an ongoing concern," said Snavely, who has an African American daughter. I am concerned about my own daughter's education and how she has sometimes not been allowed to do her best. I believe the whole world needs to be concerned about these matters. This is everyone's history. And when we lose track of that history—no matter our race—we lose some of our humanity. We need to reclaim this story, even if it is not flattering. Don Goodloe's story is not a happy one, but it is an important story for us all."

Last updated on Tuesday, February 19, 2008.

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